What is the definition of “fell”? To me, it’s always been the past tense of the verb fall. Yet, with every experience, we learn something new, and my trip to the Lake District was no exception. I’ve learned fell it is also a geographical term. According to our friend Wikipedia, a fell originates from Old Norse (fell, fjall, “mountain”) – a high and barren landscape feature, such as a mountain or moor-covered hill. The term is most often employed in Fennoscandia, Iceland, the Isle of Man, parts of northern England, and Scotland.
The highest fell in the Lake District is Scafell Pike, at 978 meters. I climbed the much more humble Wansfell Pike at 482 meters. And I was very proud of myself indeed! The last time I had gone climbing something was back in 2018, in Scotland, Loch Lomond. I climbed Conic Hill, a much much easier one (also with a lot more people) with only 361 meters. This hill would also fall into the category of a fell. I love the richness of languages and how names of things as old as the hills or mountains are rooted in their true old names. Welcome to Cumbria.
While physically climbing is challenging, I cannot describe the feeling of lightness, the blissful emotion of something not quite like joy, not quite like fulfilment. It’s almost as if I was fed with something my soul had been starving for. Yes, my heart was beating at such a speed I thought anyone around me could hear me – the wind, at the peak, was strong, forcing me to find refuge behind some rocks. My clothes were wet with sweat and were quickly becoming cold. My muscles had ached whilst I pushed them through the immense climb. Yet, I was jubilant.
I felt like the queen, not of the world, not of the Lakes, but the queen of myself. I felt alive, an intense wave of life. I felt I could actually have control over my little self, because what was it in comparison to everything I could see from there? What was that had been worrying me back in London? Why am I constantly burdening myself with responsibilities that really don’t matter in the great scheme of things? And yet, when I was going back down, I wondered, why can’t I feel like this every day? Because to be able to afford to live in a world that keeps being more and more expensive, I’ve got to work those uninspiring hours that become so much of my life.
Ironically, after such a high, I was suddenly feeling so low. I had to go back to London the next day. Work was waiting for me. As were all of those problems that seem too big when I’m sucked into my day-to-day.
And then destiny intervened. Every time I’m feelinf low, a bookshop can always lift my spirits, and after the climb, a little local bookshop in Ambleside caught my attention. I entered and started browsing the section about the Lake District. And then, I picked up a book whose title immediately attracted me – Gone Feral, by Steven Freeman (you can get it here). It’s a first-person account of what was like to be “homeless” in the Lake District – camping in the wild, going against the tamed, domesticated and commodified of modern society. He is also a fell runner – meaning he actually goes for runs in the fells. The way he describes his feelings were so relatable that I read this book in two sittings. And while I found that a lot of what he says or believes in maybe not be in tandem with my own ideas – eventually we all have to go back to society, unfortunately – there was so much I was feeling and thinking that he puts to words beautifully.
If we can break free from at least some of those societal manaclea of civilisation and domestication, if we can break free from the leash and run wild in the woods or the fells for a while then it will be good for the soul, for our vitality and dignity as a human being. And we may start to see the world in a different way, a wilder way, a more poetic way (…)
I suppose we live in a world where to “get on in the world” requires settling down and commiting oneself to an employer, to having a “career”, to supressing natural wild nomadic instincts and succumbing to a tamed routine, a lifetime of wage-slavery, domesticationm boredom and quiet desperation”Steven Freeman, in Gone Feral – Wild in the Woods and Fells of the Lake District
In truth, I could never live in the woods, like Freeman did. I couldn’t run through fells. But I would love to have infinite time and freedom to do so. While I was going on this hike, most fellow hikers were way older than me. I wondered if they wished they were my age, someone with more stamina, a body that still allows certain challenges that become even more challenging with age. Yet, in this case, it was me who envied them. They were slower, but that was ok because they had all the time in the world. Retired, with little obligations, their time of giving their hours of the day to someone else to get some money in return was gone. They had the resources – the money and the time, and thankfully, a body that still allowed to be challenged. Likely demanded it. At least that’s how I feel about my own body. Sometimes it is true that it wants to stay in bed until late. Yet, so many other times, my legs, and my feet are aching for this. They are aching for aches. After all, no one can convince me that we were born to stay in the same place, to be as sedentary as we have become. It may be comfortable… perhaps for a while. But I always need to be moving somewhere. This is why I try to travel as much as I can – be it to climb mountains and get lost in nature or to explore a new city, get to know a new culture, a new place. I simply cannot stay grounded. And I already stay too much.
But enough with the rambling. After this incredible half-day, my body needed another kind of nourishment – actual food. So I headed down back to Ambleside. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew I needed to eat, and whilst trying to find a restaurant, I explored the town too.
But I finally decided to find refuge in a pub, The Flying Fleece, where I ordered a cider and a hot sandwich of melted cheese and chutney.
And then I explored a little more of Ambleside and Bowness-on-Windermere. But I’ll leave that for next time 😉